Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sheep Go Boom

Wired has an excellent article on one of the great modern board games, Settlers of Catan, which deserves every accolade that has be placed upon it. A surprisingly easy game to teach and play, it has a perfect mix of random chance, personal interaction, and strategy.

One thing that is missing in the article is how these more expensive German games first made their initial inroads in America. And that involves another game Magic: The Gathering. Magic was the phenomena before the European Board Game phenomena. The card game was incredibly popular and incredibly collectible, such that early series were worth huge amounts in the aftermarket, both as speculation and in the game (the game has become more balanced over the years, but lacks the excitement of having a rare card in your deck of those early years). A lot of my friends got into Magic, played the heck out of it, then sold their cards are amazing prices to others.

So they had money, they had an interest in games, and suddenly the world of European Board Games, which had poked along for many years (usually with translated rule sets in the box (if you were lucky)) opened its doors to them. AND the European games arrived with its own killer app, Settlers of Catan. And that's how I first learned to play - from early adapters who were getting out of CCGs.

I'd like to say I still have my original set, but I ended up spreading this meme myself in those early years. I would teach someone to play, they would love it, and I would give them the game we were playing (yeah, I'm always recruiting future gamers). It was popular among my family, as my then-young-nieces quickly understood the game and became mavens at it. The heading of this article is a result of one of those games - I don't know how we ended up talking about sheep (probably we had a surplus of them) and one of them coined the phrase "Sheep go boom". Still a family punchline.

The game itself remains a favorite for gaming days and gaming nights with friends. Inevitably, there is a new player. Inevitably, they end up winning or coming darn close in the game. Inevitably, we find someone who is very interested in the game. And since it it easier to get on this side of the pond, I don't have to give away copies anymore.

More later,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Deathsticks for Everybody!

This is my favorite part of the Attack of the Clones movie.

More later,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Any War In A Storm

My co-workers are a fickle group, as a rule. They fall hard for the latest new arrivals in games, play the heck out of it, analyze it to death, then move onto the next new coolness. They played Team Fortress into the ground, have played all the big MMOs upon release, and of late have been cutting a swath through a host of Tower Defense Clones.

And occasionally I get sucked in. I'm usually trailing edge, playing City of Heroes or Civilization into the ground as opposed to getting involved in something new. But give me a new game, an interesting game, a FREE game, and I get swept up in it all.

In this case the game du jour is Warstorm, a deck-building online fantasy card game. You build a deck made up of cards with particular summoning times, attacks, defenses, and special abilities. Then you play them. HOW you play them is completely inconsequential - the machine plays out the game with very strict rules on who attacks who. Individual choice exists only in what you put into your army. You can play against AI opponents (most of whom have abilities you don't get at the outset) or in challenges and tournaments against other live players. And since the "game" is really just a formality, you can watch it at any time (sort of like taping a football game - it isn't going to change after you tape it). Your opponent doesn't have to BE there, so it makes it a little leisurely, and does not put those with reduced available time at a disadvantage.

The human and elf armies, in relatively slow-casting versions, are free. If you want good stuff - reanimating undead, flying dragons, and the like, you've got to pay for some of the "non-basic sets". And though I've been having a good time with the basics, I find it extremely tempted to work through some of the more advanced packs.

For the moment, I'm trying to wrap up the basic (free) mission chains, and doing the odd challenge. I can be found as Horgarth on the net, and will gladly take on all challengers.

For the next week at least, until we all move onto something else.

More later,

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cthulhian Renaissance

You never know when you're going to hit a golden age until one lands right on top of you.

For several years, the Call of Cthulhu game has been a bit moribund in the adventures department. Chaosium, its publisher, has been quietly steaming along, primarily with upgrades of various classic adventures (some of them brilliant), but with only a few new things in print, and some of those primarily little more than translations from a more vibrant German scene.

Then, in the past few months, there has been a veritable onslaught of Cthulhiana.

Start off with Super Genius Games, which has been publishing short, snappy adventures for the game. "Murder of Crows" and "The Doom from Below", for the 1920s, by the brilliant Stan! and "Midnight Harvest" by Owen Stephens both are true to the classic intent of the game.

And in referring to classic, there's "New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley", set in the heart of Lovecraft country, from Miskatonic River Press. I have not read it (someone else will be running the adventures, but I did pick up a copy. The sad and untimely passing of the company's president and star writer/editor, Cthulhian veteran Keith Herber, has put future releases in doubt. So if you see it, pick it up.

Pagan Publishing arrives with "Mysteries of Mesoamerica", a sourcebook on the Mayans, Aztecs, Toltecs, and other peoples of central america, with four adventures spanning twenty years.

And on a pulpier side, Goodman Games has launched its "Age of Cthulhu" line with "Death in Luxor" by Harley Stroh, which deals with elder corruption in Cairo. And with luck, we may even see the long-awaited "Pulp Cthulhu" from Chaosium itself.

What can be said? It looks like the stars finally came right.

More later,

Friday, March 20, 2009


I haven't heard much from Harlan Ellison since the end of the WGA strike (short form - he didn't like the deal). But now he is back on the radar, going after Paramount for payment from derivative rights for his classic Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever". And going after the WGA as well for not standing up for those rights.

Harlan, who has moved over the years from Enfant Terrible to Grand Old Curmudgeon with nary losing a step, points out that he's in it for the money. More importantly, the money that they legitimately owe him.

One of the amazing things about Hollywood is that while no one would think of stiffing their plumber or their doctor, it is a regular feature to give the writer convoluted and often arcane contractual rights, and then ignore those rights as soon as it becomes inconvenient. And keep ignoring them until said writer finally comes after them with a two-by-four.

More later,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Demise of the P-I

So today is the last edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, making Seattle a one-daily-paper town. The paper will be survived by its on-line phantom, in the same manner as Dungeon and DRAGON survive in pixelated format at WotC site.

I mourn the disappearance of the P-I in the same fashion that I regret the disappearance of the coffee shop on the corner that I don't go to, or the local store that doesn't ever seem to have pants in my size. I regret its loss as part of the neighborhood, but I haven't done a whole lot to keep it in business.

When we first moved out here, ten years back, we tried out both local papers. The P-I was part of the Hearst chain, a little more Seattle-centric, and little more sensational. The Times was locally owned, more conservative, and had a bit more of a regional spread (it mentioned Renton!). They also had better science coverage, as well as carrying Doonesbury on their otherwise-conservative-pitched editorial page. We went with the Times.

So the impact of the loss of the P-I is on one hand minimal. The Times may take a more liberal swing to pick up the lost market, or may go even more conservative now without a balancing force (Regardless, it will defend to its dying day the right of wealthy newspaper owners to avoid estate taxes). On the other hand, we as a community are lessened by the loss of major paper.

One reason is that a reduced newspaper presence results in less engagement in local issues and politics. It has been no great shakes of late, given that both papers were reducing their reporting headcount and thereby their coverage, but without the fourth estate to shine bright lamps on them, institutional rot sets in at a rapid pace.

Similarly, the reduced exposure to the arts makes it harder to make people aware of things that are new and different, which feeds the steepening spiral of less people engaging with the arts. Even if you don't go to any of the dozens of shows, exhibits, or festivals, knowing they are there pulls people together. It helps define us as a community to know about Sakura-Con or the latest play at the Rep or who's musical career has been embalmed and is on display at the Emerald Queen Casino.

The P-I will survive as an on-line aggregator-style version of a newspaper. this only works, of course, as long as there are things to aggregate. The increasing use of such sites are also vulnerable to manipulation, astroturf, and sockpuppetry. These problems exist in print, but the longer cycle time of a newspaper allows more time for sources to be investigated and bias discovered and reported. Now the press to publish is instantaneous, and unless kept under a firm hand and watchful eye, can quickly go astray.

And oddly enough, this is what newspapers bring you. It is the talent and the stories and the cartoons, but it also an editorial guidance. THIS story rates the front page. THIS is important but can be tucked back a few pages. THIS merits a summary. This one? Something smells bad - let's check it out, first. That can be what the electro-P-I has, but the jury will remain out.

Newspapers also, oddly, bring you stuff you didn't necessary want, or don't know you want. You don't want to know about a politician's problems until they are presented to you. You aren't going to go look for information about recalls but you'd like to have that information available when they happen. You don't need to know about unrest in Pakistan ... yet. The newspapers are supposedly the first draft of history, and with them we can see, in tangible form, what we think and what we want to think.

So long to the P-I. Your cousin, the Times isn't looking too healthy at the moment as well. And may you unlock the secret to online publishing and continue to be a force in Seattle (at least, you could catch up with the Stranger Blog.

More later,

Monday, March 16, 2009

Flying Polyps

I don't go into great detail about health issues because a) I don't want to bore you with my problems, and b)I don't want you to feel that you have to share YOUR problems in return. But this is important, so I'm putting it here.

If you are 50 or over, I strongly recommend a colonoscopy.

I had one this past Friday, and would go on in odious detail, but Dave Barry has gotten there first, and is much funnier about it than I would be on the subject. My experience is similar to his. In my case, they found a single (huge) polyp that appears benign, but they are doing a biopsy on it and I should know the results in a couple weeks.

This is a serious major step for anyone in regards to managing their own health (and that would be ... all of us). Colon cancer is the 2nd major killer of men in my age group (and third for women). The procedure is time-consuming from the standpoint of preparation (see the Dave Berry article), but is outpatient surgery and was handled professionally and (yes) painlessly.

This is a case where silence IS deadly, so pay attention and check with your GP.

More (hopefully less of a buzzkill) later,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Your Plutonian Science of the Day

Yesterday was the 79th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto. I was otherwise occupied, but make up for it by providing this excellent link on 10 things you don't know about Pluto.

Well, most of them I did know, but I've read up on that sort of thing.

More later,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your Cartography of the Day

Here we have a map of the Imperium and its neighbors, from Traveller. You can get it in poster, atlas, and "candy" formats, and zoom up to system-size (Offer good only in mapped sections of the Imperium, offer void when dealing with Hivers and the Two Thousand Worlds).

More later,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Your Literary Nostalgia Quote of the Day

Courtesy of the LA Times blog, the Daily Mirror, which reprints old articles from the LA Times morgue, there is this quote from Raymond Chandler.

Chandler has another book coming out next month - "The Lady in the Lake", which he says may be his last mystery. "There's no money in them," he admitted regretfully. "Not when 10,000 copies is considered a good sale!"

The more things change.

More later,

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Play: Green Knight

The Seafarer by Conor McPherson, directed by Wilson Milam, Seattle Repertory Theatre, February 26- March 28.

Well, now I know where all the unspoken words in Pinter's Betrayal ended up - they were harvesting them for this sprawling, brawling, brilliant Irish play.

This is the second McPherson play I've seen - the first was The Weir at The Intiman almost ten years back. Both are set in Ireland, both dealing heavily with alcohol, and both get spookier as we move deeper into them.

Sharky (Hans Altwies) is back home on Christmas Eve, looking after his recently-blinded elder brother Richard (Sean G. Griffin). Sharkey has given up drink, a task made more difficult by the near-continual drunkfest in the house, such that at the start the near-demented Richard is passed out in his chair and family friend Ivan (a wonderfully befuddled Russel Hodgkinson) is sleeping in the upstairs bath. There is a bit of the loser about all three men - Sharky's drinking has burned a number of bridges and run him through a number of jobs, Richard was blinded while dumpster diving and swings wildly between patriarch and victim, while Ivan has lost his glasses while drinking and now faces the wrath of his wife on Christmas morning.

Add to this Nicky (Shawn Telford), a fast-talking sort of loser who ended up with Sharky's woman and his car, who drops by, along with Mr. Lockhart (Frank Corrado), who has been driving him around southern Dublin on a pub crawl. They're there for a traditional game of Christmas Eve poker. Its all a cascade of characterization and interaction, until you get to the point where Lockhart reveals he knows Sharky, and then things take a wonderfully sinister turn.

One of the great things about good scripts is that they work on multiple levels. Not just "single man/greater issues" levels, but the fact that two people in on the stage know something, the rest don't, and you (the audience) are let in on the secret as it unspools. The Seafarer does this wonderfully, combining family interaction, societal alcohol pressure, and well-meaning comrades with the supernatural and the aforementioned game of poker. And probably the best description of heaven and hell ever put onto the stage.

And the title comes from an old poem of the same name, wherein a sailor talks about the difficulty of his life at sea as opposed to the warmth of the hearth, and Sharky's vow of abstinence in an alcohol-fueled world reflects that. But what drives it forward is another tale - that of Gawain and the Green Knight, of promises made and debts collected.

All the actors are excellent, and most get the chance to show themselves at their best and at their worst over the course of the play. Altwies holds it together as the play's center, but Griffin and Telford roar and sparkle and Hodgkinson is just brilliant as the slightly-addled Ivan. All get their parts and all have their comic relief moments as they spill over a stage littered with beer bottles and cans. Corrado is good as well, flipping his menace on and off over the course of the evening, though his accent wanders through all of the original 32 counties of the Emerald Isle.

The stage itself is done up in "household clutter" mode, and while a maze of exits and stairs, the stage does not move, leaving that to the more-than-capable actors. The set is a minefield of not only furnishings, but of remains of beer and whiskey bottles and cans of Guinness (the lobby was selling the beer at intermission, with the sign "We may use your cans for props in the show"). Some of the drunken cascades the characters perform are initiated by some misstep on the deadly stage.

So the play is funny and serious, sad and thoughtful, terrible and bright. It is tough not to be jealous of a brilliant living playwright (the dead will do no more damage), but I'd definitely toast McPherson in hopes that I can be jealous for a lot longer.

More later,

Friday, March 06, 2009

Film: All Along the Watchtowers

Watchmen, Directed by Zack Snyder, Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the comic book by Alan Moore (uncredited, at his request) and Dave Gibbons.

So the office all went to Watchmen in the middle of the day today, and we pretty much outnumbered everyone else in the theater(pretty full for the 11:30 show, but most of it was us). And I like it, and will recommend it, with a few major caveats, in particular the fact that it is what we used to call a "hard" R-rating. But there are parts that bother me as well.

Now, the movie-going universe divides into two groups - those who who have read the original comics and those who have not. I'm in that first group - hey, I'm one of the old guys who read the comics when they were still a (mostly) monthly book, which is a different experience that reading them in collection. Let me just state right here that SPOILERS ABOUND, because it is very, very hard to go into a movie these days without someone or something giving you hints and expectations (and yeah, I hate friends who say "You'll never guess the twist", which of course points out that there IS a twist). So just so you know, I will be talking about the giant psychic squid

Watchmen is set in 1985 in an alternate universe where costumed vigilantes exist. The opening credits are not going to be read, since it is all overwhelmed by the images of how the superheroes screwed around with history as we know it. The original costumed heroes of the forties, things going bad in the fifties, the arrival of a true superman in the sixties. We get superheroines posing for bomber nose-art and stealing the famous VJ Day kiss in Times Square, influencing the Kennedy assassination and taking pictures of Neil Armstrong on the moon. All to the tune of Dylan's "Times They Are A'Changing". And you know that this is a different America.

And the alternate America is a conservative's utopia. The USA has the ultimate weapon in the form of the superpowered Dr. Manhattan, who wins the Vietnam War in a week. Nixon is still in office after five terms. The Cold War is still on, as the Soviets are building massive stockpiles and testing America's resolve in Afghanistan. We move closer to atomic armageddon that seems so much more comfortable in these terroristic times. And we're a little more violent and little more blase about shooting civilians at home, whether they are hippies or protesters demanding the return of police protection. Eventually the masks are outlawed and go into retirement or start working for the government.

Then one of them is killed - the Comedian, who's been doing a lot of wetwork for the government. On the trail of his killer is Rorshach, an unwavering and brutal investigator with an ever-shifting mask. En route we get to know the rest of the modern retired heroes, Silk Spectre, who went into the business because her mother was the original Silk Spectre. Nite Owl, another second generation hero, who keeps his old technological toys in the basement. Ozymandias, the world's smartest man. And Dr. Manhattan, the only truly superpowered hero in the world.

Rorshach is a violent, paranoid man, but he's right. Something IS going on with the superheroic community, and it plays out against increasing east/west tensions. And the ultimate question becomes - what would you really do to change the world?

The film succeeds, generally. The comic it is based upon is texturally dense and extremely metatextural. There are wheels within wheels, motifs swallowing their own tails, and continual hints and red herrings. In a more visual media such as film, it is difficult to bring all of that across. And the movie succeeds, using the original comic almost as storyboard, to the point that major panels are recreated verbatim.

The order of the story is smoothed out, a lot of loops are removed, and a great deal of the secondary story is jettisoned. It does have an effect. Within the comic, we continually return to a corner news stand in Manhattan, which is seen only in the final scene. And entire substory involving a pirate comic book (there are real super-heroes, why have comics about them?) which reflects the main themes of the book are jettisoned, Nite Owl's mentor is introduced and never touched upon again (with the result that new Nite Owl loses a lot of his own personal growth). All changes needed to get it down to a still overlong 2 1/2 hour movie.

Yet it does hit the major points and does a better job of honoring the original than most other popular culture-to-movie translations. Let me put it this way - there were no Legolas-shield-surfing-the-steps scenes here.

And it gets to the end and it changes. The wheels don't exactly fall off, but they do wobble just a bit. The original ending was a bit hard to swallow (go ahead, old fans - use the term 'giant psychic squid' without giggling). What replaces that actually makes more sense and fits with the MO we've established so far for the villain of the piece.

What wobbles is what they retain (here comes the big spoilers, folks). As in the original, a huge (and murderous) hoax apparently threatens the world, causing all the nations within to pull together. That's a big sell, made even tougher in the film by what they replaced the giant psychic squid with.

But that's not my problem with the ending. More importantly, they deviate in the "villain's" final joy in him triumph (in the comic, he wasn't sure it would work, in the film he remains cool as ice). Also, they jigger around the various characters coming to terms with the new reality. This is the payoff sequence for everyone. In the comic, they spend a lot more time slowly realizing that the "villain" got it right. Yes, its been two hours already, but cutting down those scenes actually did more damage to the film than the, um, giant psychic squid.

And when you hear "we changed the ending because of 9/11", it is not the, um, giant psychic squid they are talking about. They keep a very 9/11 vibe, but spread it out more. And unfortunately weakening the strength of the argument itself.

On actors, the Comedian (absolute bastard) and Rorshach (psychotic) nailed their parts, and Dr. Manhattan, working through glowy blue special effects and nudity, conveyed a detached humanity to his role. Nite Owl had the heart of his story removed, and is left as supermensch to Manhattan's Uberman. Ozymandias, one of the most enigmatic characters in the comic, feels weak on the screen.

But it is the young Silk Spectre character that has the hardest time. She's the only one of the bunch that the story ultimately demands growth of (Nite Owl does in the comic, but again, much of his story was jettisoned). She proves to be too slender a reed to carry everything she has to go through. I think that is one of the movie's weak spots as well.

And there is such a thing as following the book too closely. And by that I don't mean going shot-for-shot. In the original comic, the story was broken up into a regulated grid 3 panels by 3 panels per page, which made larger panels pop more. Problem is that these panels are mostly vertical, and the movie screen is mostly horizontal. So in following too tightly, we are losing a lot of the versatility of the camera itself. I cause myself tracking on when the director shook loose and made a movie as opposed to bringing a comic to life. It was noticeable.

And finally the sex and violence. A lot of people point to the original as being a hallmark for moving into unfamiliar territory, and it was - this was a post-code book and had cursing and blood and naked blue men. But the director pushes the R as far as he can go. In comics, you can fill in a lot into the gutters between the panels. Here, we went with a lot more direct and blatant violence. (the comic stresses the mortality of the characters, but in the opening fight and throughout, it is clear that the collateral damages are turned up to 11, and you can punch through walls and use and opponent' face to engage in major home renovations). Be warned, this is not a film for kids.

Final summary? Good. I honestly liked Iron Man better, which carried through more on spirit of the original source than on plot. in Watchmen they filmed the unfilmable, and did a better job that I would ever expect. And while the ending feels rushed (and the problem is NOT insufficient giant psychic squids), it stands up well.

And yeah, I've gone on long, and have yet more to say. But as we say around here, more later.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Your Art Link of the Day

Spectrum, the long-standing showcase for fantasy and science fiction art, has announced the winners for Spectrum 16:The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.

Taking the Gold and Silver awards in Concept art are Daniel Dociu and Kekai Kotaki, who are co-workers here at ArenaNet.

Not that I'm bragging, or anything.

More later,

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Little Vandals

So the woodpecker assault moves towards resolution: Our Christmas woodpecker has been gouging out larger and larger holes in the telephone pole across the street. Yesterday they (the mysterious "they" that does such things) put in a new pole, right adjacent to the old one. Thinner and hopefully more woodpecker-resistant than the old pole, the various utilities are now moving their services from one to the other.

That's about two months between initial report and replacement (They also replaced two more poles along the street that were in need). Not bad for a non-crisis situation.

More concern-making was that local vandals set a nearby mailbox on fire. Last night our doorbell rang, and an unfamiliar woman was at the door. She and her husband were driving down the street and noted that a mailbox several doors down was on fire, smoke billowing out.

Yes, we still have street mailboxes, a memory of more rural days. Metal ones with little flags (of late, the kids have been putting the flags up on their way to school). And most of the houses are set back far from the street, so we were the first house that the woman came to that she could see all the way to the door.

So I walked down to the burning mailbox. Our neighbor across the street joined us - she had been walking her dog and heard some fireworks popping. The owner of the mailbox was not home. I fetched the neighbor who shared the mailbox stand with the target. We called in a report, and fire truck was dispatched, just to be sure. The Lovely Bride come down with a watering can to put out the small fire.

Under the flashlights, it looked like someone stuck a bunch of sparklers in the box (still filled with mail) and lit them. The mail inside was lost. The firefighters (arriving in good time, by the way) made sure the fire was quenched, took our statements, and said they would pass the incident on to King County (we're in their jurisdiction).

This isn't the first bit of vandalism we've had over the past decade. Back before the curbs were put in, mailboxes were regular targets of idiots in cars with baseball bats (the older mailboxes still have dent marks, or often fortress-like housings). We lost a garbage can once (taken, complete with garbage), and a lightweight sea serpent in our lawn (and of all the things lost, I still miss that). The neighbor across the street lost her house numbers. Our neighborhood is just rural enough to have houses far apart and set back, and just dense enough to have strangers wander through without much notice.

Who's responsible? Probably kids, but we don't know. I've met the neighbors whose box was hit once, so I don't know if it was targeted or just an act of random vandalism. So now we're keeping our eyes peeled, just in case.

Sigh. The woodpecker was so much easier to deal with.

More later,

Monday, March 02, 2009

DOW Breaks 7,000!

A whole cluster of thoughts accompanying this one, spanning the spectrum from rational to rather deranged:

First off, it is amusing (in a black humor sort of way) to watch the media react to the initial 5000 point drop as being merely a bump in the road, and to hyperventilate as we continue to settle downwards. This is the reverse of what we saw as recently as two years ago, where every good day was trumpeted from the battlements and every bad day was quietly forgotten.

The good news (such as it is) is that the same guys who were ignored when they said that things were going to get worse are now saying that things are going to get better. And they’re still being ignored.

Digging out the aluminum foil hat* for a moment, the origins of the present crisis seem to be birthed in decisions of four years ago. If you’ll remember, that was when there was a major push by the administration to put your social security funds into the market, to the point of declaring the re-election a mandate for just that kind of change. It was one of the few cases where the nation at large delivered a “hell no” to the admin, and they backed off.

But if they had, would the increase in liquidity keep the pot boiling, the bubble expanding, for a few critical months? Would the current disaster have been put off a year or two, making it someone else’s problems? (This is my gripe with term limitations – the planning is confined by how long you keep the job.) This assumes that the admin knew what it was doing (despite appearances) and saw the marketization of social security as the only way to keep it from falling in on their watch. They didn't get it, the roof fell in earlier than it should have, and they have to take the rap for it.

And here’s something else from the metallic chapeau department – Many (many) years ago, I was unemployed in the Reagan recession of the early eighties. It was a pretty nasty time in the US, but it was worse for Japan. In fact, Japan (which during the seventies was supposedly poised to eat our lunch) suddenly found itself crippled and has yet to regain its economic strength thirty years later.

Now, we’ve recently been faced with China as a rising power also threatening to eat our economic lunch. And with the sudden economic downturn, its manufacturing cities are emptying as everyone is going back to their family farms. The newly-built fiscal infrastructure, like Japan's two decades previous, may not recover.

Which leads the paranoid to ask - Is the current crisis a form of economic warfare? Is there still more going on behind the scenes here?

Just some thoughts,

More Later,

*”Tinfoil Hat”, while tripping off the tongue, doesn’t make much sense. No one uses tinfoil anymore, not even in gum wrappers (Which would be hard to make a hat from, anyway). That stuff you’re wrapping leftovers with? Aluminum foil, which replaced tin foil in its consumer niche sometime in the early part of the last century. The word survives, while the product does not.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Pint of Pinter

Betrayal by Harold Pinter, directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Repertory Theater, Through March 22, 2009

It is 1981 and I am sitting in the audience of the Pittsburgh Public Theater, housed in one of Carnegie's old libraries on the North Side. I am with the woman who will a year and a half in the future become the Lovely Bride. I am living in a carriage house in Shadyside with a friend and working as a civil engineer for a company making structures for air pollution equipment. Harold Pinter has written the script for the new film that has just come out, The French Lieutenant's Woman.

And it is 2008 and I am sitting in the audience of the Seattle Rep, next to the Lovely Bride. And I am living in a nice house near Panther Lake and building fantasy worlds for a living. Harold Pinter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has been dead these past two months.

That's my time travel story. It's not much, I know, but I think I've weathered the past 27 years better than the play. (The LB, for her part, denies that she was at the play my 1981 timespace version, but I can think of no other valid reason for me to go a Pinter play in 1981).

The play itself travels through time in a nonstandard fashion, told in reverse, an artifice that has made it all the way down to "Seinfeld" in the intervening years, but in the 70s? New hot stuff. Also hot were the bubbling volcano of resentments within the characters that filled the pauses and silences of conversation with fire and resentment. And that the play was all about the unspoken bits. And martial infidelity. All the hypocrisy of all that British reserve. All very hot stuff for my 1980's self, but now feels as dated as a powder blue leisure suit.

Emma (Cheyenne Casebier) and Robert (Alex Podulke) are married. Emma and Jerry (David Christopher Wells), Robert's best friend, carry on a seven year affair. Two years after the end of the affair, Emma tells Jerry that Robert knows about the affair. Robert tells Jerry that he knew about the affair for years. Jerry is upset by the revelations, and we start tripping backwards to see how we got here.

So Emma and Jerry betray Robert with their affair. Emma betrays Jerry by admitting the affair to Robert. Robert betrays Jerry by not telling him he knew about affair, which leaves Jerry at the end of the timeline/beginning of the play distraught, not about losing Emma (who has, since the affair's breakup, moved onto other interests and other men), but because Robert's glacial calm shows he has been playing his best friend for a fool.

And that's about it. Jerry is shallow and a cad, living in the moment, aided by his own unreliable memory. Robert stuffs his rage inside, so that his moment, when the infidelity is revealed, is met with a stiff upper lip instead of an explosion. Holding it all together is Emma's character, who is the one who is revealed to have grown from the experience. Cheyenne Casebier, having been a maniacal Milady in "The Three Musketeers", reigns in beautifully as she makes the trip from her older self to her younger persona. She visibly and emotionally changes - the two men, not so much.

Emma feels the most real of the three, though part of that may be nature of the part in addition to the power of the actress. Robert and Jerry come off a wasps trapped in mid-seventies amber, emotions hidden, scandals revealed. But all three actors must walk the very fine line of a world transformed in the past 30 years, where quick British wit gives way to punchlines, and Pinteresque pauses threatens to pitch into Pythonesque parody.

The set is simple, and should have stayed that way - two walls, two windows, and a door. The projected grainy home movie against the rear wall was unneeded save to fill space between prop changes, and the rear wall advancing on the audience (Ah! The walls truly ARE closing in!) just drains more of the life out of the first/last scene.

And yeah, the first temporal/last presented scene felt undercut (again, I'm going to fault the play, not the presentation). This should have been the punchline, yet it resolves with a cold closing to match the cold opening of the start of the play. There is a uniformity of tone within, as if the Britishness has starched all the flexibility out of it.

Back to my personal time travel. I remember thinking in 1981 - did I miss something? I was new to the playgoing experience on a regular basis, so maybe there was something here I didn't catch - Was it just too subtle for me?

It wasn't and I didn't. It is at its heart an empty experience wrapped about a catchy bit of artistic effect. Great for its time, and worth presenting, but like its male characters, ultimately trapped in amber.

More later,